Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Swift blazing flag of the regiment,
Eagle with crest of red and gold,
These men were born to drill and die.
- Now we begin the glorious fourth stanza. It looks a lot like the second, and uses some of the same language (flag, drill, die). Mr. Tough Guy is here to give us another vivid battlefield picture.
- The regiment's flag, with an eagle on it, is swiftly blazing in the sky. No, it's not on fire; blazing just means that the flag is shining brightly.
- And once again, we're told that the men were born to drill and die. Sounds like another refrain to Shmoop.
Point for them the virtue of slaughter,
Make plain to them the excellence of killing
And a field where a thousand corpses lie.
- The fourth stanza continues with some more unpleasant remarks.
- He tells the flag to point out the virtue of slaughter to the soldiers and make plain the excellence of killing.
- Then he says something about a field where a thousand corpses lie.
- Wait a second. We've seen this line before. That's right, this guy used it when he was talking about the battle god back in stanza 2.
- Anyway, we know the phrase looks tacked on, and it doesn't seem to make a lot of sense at first. You should toss in "make plain" so that the sentence essentially reads "make plain a field…"
- The excellence of killing? The virtue of slaughter?
- There's nothing excellent or virtuous about either one of these things. In fact, they're pretty much all around terrible. Most folks agree.
- So that raises the question: is the speaker being ironic at all? Or is this how a drill sergeant or military man really thinks?
- We'd be willing to bet that a military man doesn't really think killing is excellent and slaughter virtuous. But then again, war is about winning, and you win by killing and slaughtering.
- It's possible, then, that these lines are a critique of military thinking.
- Still, no matter which way you cut it, they're pretty unsettling.
- Note that the third and sixth lines of this stanza rhyme (die/lie). Should the speaker really be rhyming around when talking about a subject so gruesome?